Power Line offers this quote from the Introduction to a compilation of FDR’s 1938 speeches and Presidential papers, in which Roosevelt seeks to explain the deliberate polarization of his politics.
I believe it to be my sworn duty, as President, to take all steps necessary to insure the continuance of liberalism in our government. I believe, at the same time, that it is my duty as head of the Democratic Party to see to it that my party remains the truly liberal party in the political life of America.
Generally speaking, in a representative form of government, there are usually two general schools of political belief—liberal and conservative. The system of party responsibility in America requires that one of its parties be the liberal party and the other be a conservative party.
We see this view repeated, if not necessarily with Roosevelt’s loftier motive, in the current Progressive attempt to purge conservatism from our politics and from our government with the administration’s civil discourse and its denigration, where they’re not ignoring altogether, of conservatives, Republicans, and any others who disagree with them.
But the theory, and its activation, necessarily do two things, each of them bad: 1) it drives each party further toward the extreme of the indicated position, and 2) it denies each party the ability to evolve with the society which it purports to serve—the American society.
The demand that Party satisfy the roles which FDR, and his successor Progressives, have laid out traps a self-avowed liberal party into constantly seeking change from the status quo and pursuing an ever bigger role for government, for that is the extreme of what liberalism has become, and it traps the self-avowed conservative party into constantly seeking to preserve the status quo for its own sake, for that is the extreme of what conservatism has become. But change or preservation for its own sake is anathema to what it is that makes America exceptional.
Times change, circumstances change, but the principles underlying liberty, individual rights, and the individual obligations that underlie that liberty and those rights do not change. This is why the Liberalism of the 18th Century is not, and cannot be, the Liberalism of the 21st Century, nor can the Conservatism of those days be today’s Conservatism. It was 18th Century Liberalism that demanded an end, at least for us, to a monarchical world where subjects were to serve the king because they could not be trusted to take care of themselves. It was 18th Century Liberalism that replaced monarchy with limited a government subordinate to the people explicitly because that Liberalism trusted the people. It was 18th Century Conservatism that sought to preserve that original condition, to maintain monarchy and the supremacy of the King. No longer can Liberalism push for that change for those conditions no longer exist in our world; Liberalism must evolve in order to represent our current world. And that Conservatism today cannot push for a stability based those politics; it too must evolve, and for the same reasons.
To preserve our nation’s greatness, there must, of necessity, be a convergence of views, not an artificially maintained differential, on those principles that made our greatness possible. There certainly can be divergent and diverging views on what mechanisms, appropriate to today, give concrete effect to those principles, and indeed there should be such differences, if only for the sake of debate so that we may be more sure that the better mechanisms are being selected. The problem with being trapped in pushing one –ism or the other solely for the sake of that –ism is that the –isms themselves must push us away from those fundamental principles.
Benjamin Barber advises us (courtesy of The Nation, via Power Line, again), “We must not step away from our values before negotiation begins….” But he destroys his thesis by founding it on this: “allowing runaway financial markets, bloviating plutocrats and anti-government hubris to dominate, while poverty, social justice and climate change slip off the legislative agenda.” There is no logic to his argument, and his facts are absent. Without a motivation beyond simply having to be Liberal, he is unable to mount a coherent inquiry; he is left with the sort of thing he has, instead, produced: a false dichotomy that borders on a base ad hominem attack.
We see the same problem of this trap in the inchoate character of the OWS protests and in the incoherence of the Progressive Obama administration. They are snared in the artificial requirement of being Liberal for Liberalism’s sake. A “Conservative” administration must not commit the same error.